Australians lose their shit over a Bunnings sausage sizzle. Some get devotional tattoos inked to their flesh, others create earnest Bunnings snag review pages, and at least one guy made national news a couple of years ago when he used a drone to airlift one to his hot tub. If there’s a conversation to be had about our country’s national dish—about the most widely loved food in Australia—then a barbecuer in a Bunnings apron surely deserves a seat at the table.
There is, however, a fine line between love and hate. And apparently, in the case of Bunnings sausages, that line corresponds exactly to where the onions are placed on the bread.
The hardware chain’s sausages have become the subject of controversy after it was revealed that the barbecuers are under instruction to put the onions beneath the sausages. This order of operation is recommended for safety reasons, apparently, in order to prevent onions from falling onto the ground and slipping people over. And, to avoid confusion, each barbecue is issued with a laminated diagram of the procedure, which must be ready on-hand at all times:
“Safety is always our number one priority and we recently introduced a suggestion that onion be placed underneath sausages to help prevent the onion from falling out and creating a slipping hazard,” said Bunnings’ chief operating officer, Debbie Poole, according to the The Guardian. Of course, this suggestion hasn’t gone down so well with the discerning Bunnings barbecue lover—many of whom view The Onion Rule as the latest manifestation of nanny state Australia.
But while this news has got tongues wagging around the country, it turns out that putting onions before sausages is just one piece of a much larger story. Because it turns out there's a whole world of ridiculous, trivial considerations behind every Bunnings sausage.
Bunnings employee Jess* explained to VICE that the onion/sausage rule was probably rolled out after someone did slip on an onion and injure themselves. “It only needs to happen once for Bunnings to make a rule about it,” she says. As an example of the company’s tendency toward retrospective rule-making, Jess points to another recent incident when a spray can of oil was left sitting next to an active barbecue and promptly exploded in everyone’s faces. Ever since, Bunnings have had a strict directive against barbecuers using oil in a can.
“Every time a community fucks up they have to change the rules," says Jess. "The safety pamphlet is updated regularly.”
These rules are all stipulated in the Sausage Sizzle Starter Pack: an extensive word document outlining everything from health-and-safety regulations through to suggested types of sausages; a “step-by-step process of how Bunnings want the barbecue to be run."
The Starter Pack gets sent out to every group that wants to run a barbecue fundraiser out the front of a store. And there are a lot of them: Jess says dates are often booked out months, sometimes years in advance—for good reason. At some of the larger stores, she speculates that a group could raise anywhere between $3000 and $5000 in a single day.
That’s only if their product is up to scratch, though. At Jess’s store, staff always test the sausage sizzle for themselves and give an unofficial assessment on whether it meets the Bunnings standard. Their criteria includes crustiness of the bread, quality of the sausage, and whether the onions are frozen or fresh. If the quality doesn’t meet the staff’s standards then a manager will have a stern word with the group behind the barbecue and get them to lift their game. If the regulations of the Sausage Sizzle Starter Pack are violated, then the group in question will be blacklisted from operating a barbecue at any Bunnings in the state.
In Jess' home state of Western Australia, though, there’s an additional rule. That is all sausages must be served on a bun, and under no circumstances is the barbecuer to serve snags on sliced bread. This is a significance point of difference between the east coast and west coast Bunnings, apparently. Whereas barbecues in Sydney and Melbourne stores frequently dish up sausage sizzles on pieces of bread, stores in and around Jess’s neck of the woods pride themselves on peddling a premium meal.
There’s a good reason why these kind of quality checks need to be so stringently enforced. Jess repeatedly emphasises the extent of the public’s passion for Bunnings sausages, and says that the community backlash is fierce if they don’t meet expectations. In those events, it’s the store itself that cops the brunt of the fury. God help anyone who doesn’t have the barbecue up-and-running by 9:30am on a Saturday, she says.
At the end of the day, people just fucking love a good, reliable sausage sizzle and fucking hate change, however small. It’s the same reason why something as seemingly insignificant as the order in which onion and sausages go on bread has become a national talking point. But Jess, for her part, stands behind the Bunnings decision.
“You want the onions on the bottom anyway, because if you put them on top and then put on the sauces then the onions tend to slip off,” she explains. “So you’ll be walking down the aisles and there’ll be onions lying all over the floor. We’re doing you a favour. It’s just better structure; better architecture of the bun.”
*not her real name